“Hello! My name is X and I’ve lived here for 34 years.”
Recently I commented on a CHS blog post and someone replied with, “How long have you lived on the Hill, Zachary? Do you really think you should be President of the ridiculous-as-it-is Capitol Hill Community Council given how long you have(n’t) been here?” At first, the comment stunned me.
“Hello! My name is Y and I’ve lived here for 15 years.”
This commenter’s sentiment reminded me of an experience earlier this year. After a walk through the neighborhood with the Mayor and representatives from a few Capitol Hill organizations, we sat together at a neighborhood business and the owner expressed that she thought older folks need representation on our council.
“Hello! My name is Z and I’ve lived here for 21 years.”
Frankly, as someone committed to community development, equity, and inclusion, it resonated with me because I try to practice the values of representation daily. Since August, our community council has used the priorities gathered and defined at last December’s Open House to direct the work our committees – programs/community service, transportation, and housing/homelessness – do. We’re committed to race and social justice work by exploring gentrification, class, and race and supporting existing work being done in our community to address them. I’ve even rearranged our meeting space by circling the chairs, which expands inclusion and participation.
Often, neighbors around the room declare, “Hello! My name is Q and I’ve lived here for XX years.” It makes sense because community is strongest at the intersection of common location and common identification; in the Native community, we value a strong connection to our land, language, and lineage.
This frequent pattern of introduction fascinates me given our neighborhood’s history of redlining and anti-black housing covenants from the 20s through the 60s1 and active lobbying against a burgeoning LGBTQ community in the early 70s2. It invites me to ponder the people denied a home here, the families that couldn’t start their lives here, or the queers who came here yearning to satiate their unmet needs for acceptance.
What the commenter implied is that we are valued based on how long we’ve been on Capitol Hill. But for many of us young, or low-income, or queer, or artistic, or under-represented individuals, we imagined future chapters of our lives free of the prejudice, stigma, or marginalization where we were. Capitol Hill was bookmarked for a future chapter.
Young people today need leaders who are role models – people who reflect back at us the community we envision. We don’t typically see ourselves reflected in leadership so we not only need young leaders to retain our sense of social value, we need young leaders for the contributions offered from the perspective of looking ahead with anticipation, from the perspective of our economic status, from the perspective of someone at this stage in their life.
A homeless youth population, which rose 21% in the last year, disproportionately affects low-income, queer, and/or people of color; police violence often targets young men of color; youth (ages 15-25) unemployment remains static at above 12%3; tuition increases leave higher education out of reach for many; job prospects anticipated as we entered college remain unfulfilled; and student loan debt cripples our opportunity and potential. The breadth of these barriers do little to help young people believe in ourselves. Our community must believe in us, too.
To stand as young leaders is to risk a strange kind of solitude. The solitude of knowing we’re not standing alone. We know we stand on the shoulders of the giants before us, honoring them in the ways we express our leadership. Those giants have written the chapters of their lives and our community. For young leaders, the chapters known and unknown – the ones still unwritten – remain dreams waiting to unfold. Let’s dream and create shared community together.
Please join us at The Capitol Hill Community Council meeting for our annual elections and more! We are continuing to translate the hopes and perspectives of the neighborhood into meaningful and informed change. Join us Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Cal Anderson Park Shelter House to engage with your neighbors, hear from local groups and organizations involved in making Capitol Hill stronger and healthier, and get involved!